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After 35 years, 'Papillon' gets Hollywood remake

When a film about a petty criminal who was wrongly convicted of murder and banished to a desert island colony was released in 1973, it instantly earned a place in movie folklore for the phenomenal on-screen chemistry between its two lead stars, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

Now, 35 years after the two screen convicts plotted and schemed to escape their destinies, Hollywood film producers have turned their attentions to making a modern day version of the classic, Papillon.

The film, adapted from the autobiography of Henri Charriere, is to be remade by the Los Angeles producer, Branko Lustig, responsible for films such as Schindler's List and Gladiator, and John Kelly, who made The Black Dahlia. He will team up with the Spanish production company, Atlantia Canarias. In its early stage of development and still in need of a director, its backers have already allotted a budget of $90m (£45m), according to Variety magazine.

The original action film, billed as "the greatest adventure of escape", follows the story of Henri "Papillon" Charriere, played by McQueen, who is condemned to life in a penal colony in French Guiana and stages countless failed escape attempts. McQueen teams up with Hoffman, who plays the older, more awkward Louis Dega, a friend to Papillion who agrees to protect him while they are incarcerated on "Devil's Island".

It became the definitive action adventure movie, nominated for Oscars and Golden Globe awards including a nomination for McQueen's lead role, hailed by critics as a "perfect performance".

Yesterday, film industry specialists suggested the remake could be commercially successful, especially with powerful Hollywood producers on board. Ali Jaffar, Europe correspondent at Variety, said the key to its success would lie in its choice of cast. "The film depends on who you cast for it. Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman are two icons of cinema and to replicate their chemistry would be virtually impossible. What I imagine film-makers would want is to find two talented actors who create their own chemistry, an entirely different chemistry from the original cast."

He was hopeful about the success of a film based on a memoir. "I think any remake is a risky endeavour, particularly one which is affectionately remembered. But it has source material from the book which can be updated for the 21st century. The 1973 film was just one interpretation of the book, and this one can be very different. When you are remaking a book as opposed to the film, one has the licence to be more creative," he said.

Nick James, editor of the British Film Institute Sight and Sound magazine, added: "Steve McQueen was in many ways the old fashioned action star, who was macho but cool, the kind of male star we don't really have any more, even though Brad Pitt tried to be a bit like McQueen. I could see Robert Downey Jnr playing the lead, he has a comical edge but he is cool too, and he has a dark side which he can exploit. With Dustin Hoffman's part, you need someone with the ability to be a chameleon, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman."

The remake will be led by the Spanish producers, Vicente Mora, Manuel Corbi and Roger Corbi, who said that most shooting, which is scheduled for September next year, would take place in the Canary Islands.

Hit remakes...

*Ocean's Eleven was box-office gold when Steven Soderbergh's version of the Sixties' classic came out in 2001.

*Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was just as popular as Gene Wilder's 1971 tour de force

*Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated The Departed, 2006, was based on the Hong Kong classic Internal Affairs.

...and misses

*The British sixties classic The Italian Job was re-located to Los Angeles for a disastrous remake released in 2006.

*The Coen brothers' and Tom Hanks' remake, in 2004, of Alec Guinness's The Ladykillers was not well received.

*The Stepford Wives remake proved to be unappealing at the box office in 2004, in contrast to the 1975 original.